Reflection on 9/11 Ten Years On
I was there on September 11. Judy and I were living three short blocks from the twin towers. We had awakened that morning to clear blue skies and the sparkling waters of New York Harbor. But it was not to last. We felt the shock when the first tower was hit. We heard the scream of the second jet flying low overhead and the sonic boom that followed when the south tower was hit. We experienced the shaking and the midnight darkness when the first tower collapsed. We saw the dust and ash and the paper on the streets and felt the eerie silence later when we were allowed to leave the area.
It was out of the ashes of 9/11 that Christ Church had its beginnings. In January that year, Judy and I had moved to New York. Redeemer had invited me, an Anglican minister from Sydney, to establish new gospel ministries in lower Manhattan with the intention of forming a new church over the next three years. However, because I had been involved in setting up a new midweek ministry on Wall Street in the spring and summer of 2001, it was agreed that we should form a community with a view to starting a new church. In January, 2004 Christ Church New York City was formally launched.On this tenth anniversary of September 11, we look back to learn the lessons of that day as well as to look forward.
Ten years ago, in their shock and grief, people everywhere prayed. In the immediate aftermath churches were filled as many looked for comfort and guidance. A great evil occurred that day. Almost three thousand men and women died. Thousands more mourned. Rightly, the lives of individuals and the city have moved on. The Christian motif of resurrection supports this. But it is important that we stop to reflect, and to pray for those who lost loved ones and friends. But many people forget the evil, the horror, the godlessness of actions that took the lives of ordinary people going about their daily affairs. They forget that it was commercial airliners that were crashed into the twin towers and the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
We are the losers if we do forget. Events like 9/11 make us realize that we need more than the wisdom of the world to give us understanding and to comfort the broken- hearted and those who mourn. For example, Psalm 46 tells us:
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
These words show us that the Bible knows about suffering and evil, especially human evil and its devastating effects on this world. And we see here that God 's presence is not dislocated from such evils, nor is it abstracted from them. Rather, the psalm reveals God as being in the midst of the chaos: he is neither the cause of evils but nor is he removed from them. Further, the Bible speaks about human evil. It expects wickedness, and we should never be surprised at the depth of evil. If we reject the idea of God we are nothing but atoms in ordered cohesion, bumping around in time and space. Evil and suffering have no meaning. There is no moral compass.We live in a world that is in rebellion against God and we should not be surprised at the consequences. The good news is that God has not left us to our own devices: he has committed himself to be involved. We can be confident that when we turn to him he will hear us and sustain us. Psalm 46 continues:
There is a river, whose streams make glad the city of God....God is with her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
Why such evil? Why such suffering? At one level we can explain that such acts occur because of human malice and sin. But why would God permit them? The issues of evil, suffering and pain are complex. For the professing Christian, this is the toughest question. And I have to say, there is no complete answer. Not even the Bible claims to give us the answer. It would be wrong of me to say that it did.However, the Bible is clear about this: justice will be done. Talk of judgment is not popular these days but, if it is not real, there is no hope for goodness in the world. Goodness becomes meaningless. We dare to believe that goodness matters because the God who made the world intends to give his moral verdict on human history. Without judgment life itself is reduced to moral indifference. This is not an invitation to hatred and vindictiveness, for the Bible commands us to be concerned for the best interests of our enemies and to pray for them. The realities of the divine and of ultimate accountability have been integral to the life and practice of this nation from its inception. The first president, George Washington, was inaugurated half a mile from what became the World Trade Center site. In the course of his inaugural address on April 30, 1789, he said:
[We] ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained . . . .
At the least Psalm 23 should be read at the tenth anniversary ceremony – perhaps by a relative of someone who died on 9/11. This was the psalm that was recited by at least one man on board Flight 93 before the action against the terrorists brought the flight down in Pennsylvania. Later that night the President also read from the same psalm.These are words of comfort.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me...
We now have a clearer picture of God with the coming of Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God into the world. Taking on human form he experienced the suffering, the injustice and grief that we are exposed to. Yet he could say, ‘I am the Good Shepherd; I lay down my life for the sheep’ (John 10:11). Through Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection we find freedom from sin, from fear and freedom from self. In Christ alone there is peace and joy, love and hope.
September 11, 2001 prompted thousands to turn back to God. Ten years on we should remember this and turn afresh to God ourselves.
John G. Mason is the Senior Minister of Christ Church New York City